Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown

area of research: all disciplines
type of funding: visionary projects from the field of basic research
up to 500,000 Euro
up to 3 years
post-doctoral researchers and professors at German universities and research institutes; inclusion of international cooperation partners possible

deadline for draft proposals: submission any time

deadline for full proposals: submission on invitation, only

Objectives of the program

With the program "Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown", the Foundation supports groundbreaking and risky research ideas with high scientific relevance. We are looking for basic research projects that are not dedicated to the already 'known unknown', but that strive to explore the 'unknown unknown' thereby holding the potential for major scientific breakthroughs, but also for failure.

Pioneering research projects must meet the following criteria: 

  • Exploratory quality of the project: Your project is radically exploratory and breaks new scientific ground.
  • Scientific relevance and potential for new insights: Your project addresses an unexplored scientific challenge and, if successful, it will provide fundamental new impetus to the community.
  • Qualification and motivation: You devote yourself to new scientific challenges with passion and a willingness to take risks and are outstandingly qualified with regard to the feasibility and implementation of the project. 

Funding opportunity

The funding program addresses outstanding researchers from all disciplines and is open to various funding formats. Whether a project is funded is assessed in a two-stage selection process. Draft proposals can be submitted at any time using the corresponding template draft proposals (RTF) by e-mail ( They will be comparatively reviewed internally and if the program criteria are fully met, you will be invited to submit a full proposal. Those invited to apply will be informed about the deadline for full proposals. Submitted applications are assessed involving external experts. Successful proposals have to fulfill most stringent quality requirements. 

Please note: Draft proposals will only be accepted and reviewed once. It is not possible to revise and resubmit a draft proposal. Research projects that promise an incremental gain in knowledge in an already existing research field will not be funded. Doctoral projects cannot be supported.


The program "Pioneering Research – Exploring the Unknown Unknown" is part of the profile area "Exploration". With this profile area, the Foundation aims to encourage creative, daring, and curious researchers to advance "out-of-the-box" ideas and venture into unexplored research territory. It creates frameworks for the unexpected in terms of new experimental and open spaces in which innovative and risky research ideas can be explored. It is clear that it is part of such projects that they run a high risk of failure and unexpected findings.